When the highest-scoring game in Florida-Florida State history ended last week in dramatic and somewhat controversial fashion at Doak Campbell Stadium, one question about the Seminoles’ 45-38 victory struck me more than anything else:
Is there any way quarterbacks Anthony Richardson and Jordan Travis could return next year for an encore presentation and deliver more great football theater in Gainesville?
Maybe not. Pro scouts, so enamored with Richardson’s physical tools (6-foot-4, 240 pounds, sub-4.4 speed), may not be antsy enough about his accuracy issues to keep the Gators’ QB from being anything less than a first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft if he chooses to come out.
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Travis, a redshirt junior, also faces a decision about whether to return to FSU next season or turn pro, but he’s an undersized prospect (6-foot-1, 212) that will likely be no better than a third-day draft pick at this moment.
It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison of what these quarterbacks are looking at in terms of their football future. While speculation is rampant, neither Richardson nor Travis have tipped their hand about coming back or declaring for the NFL Draft.
Many projections have Richardson, with only a 53.8 percent completion rate this season, as a first-round selection, thus increasing the likelihood of him possibly already playing his last game if he opts out of UF’s bowl matchup.
Still, after the show both of them put on with their arms and legs last Saturday in Tallahassee — albeit Richardson and Travis had accuracy issues, plus five UF receivers being absent — who wouldn’t want to see a sequel of these two quarterbacks matching up one more time in 2023?
This rivalry could do worse than having the rocket-armed Richardson, with him getting more accustomed to Billy Napier’s system, chucking deep balls to Ricky Pearsall for another year.
It’d be cool to see the Houdini-like Travis, who pulled off one of the greatest escapes you’ll ever see when he spun away from three UF defenders (Jaydon Hill, Princely Umanmielen and Antwaun Powell-Ryland) to almost reach the end zone, get another shot at the Gators.
Travis also had another breathtaking scramble to set up a third quarter score, plus a 29-yard designed run for FSU’s second TD.
As Napier said about Travis afterward: “His legs were the difference in the game. He gave us fits all night.”
Richardson also scares every defense with his size and athleticism. It’d sure be nice to see him and Travis going head-to-head one more time, though fans of the Florida-FSU rivalry may not get their wish.
Providing real entertainment
Most games where two quarterbacks combine to complete just 22 of 57 passes would be hard on the eyes. This one didn’t feel that way.
From a pure enjoyment standpoint, last week’s shootout was about as entertaining as any game in series history.
Maybe not to the level of 1997, where UF coach Steve Spurrier kept alternating quarterbacks Doug Johnson and Noah Brindise, somehow pulling out a 32-29 win over the No. 2-ranked ‘Noles behind four rushing TDs by Fred Taylor.
Or the 2003 game, which featured some highly suspect officiating from Jack Childress’ ACC crew and a postgame scuffle at midfield, when FSU receiver P.K. Sam caught a 52-yard TD pass in the final minute to beat the Gators 38-34.
Those were higher-stakes matchups, but Richardson and Travis had enough big plays to make fans of both programs want to see these quarterbacks tangle again.
No question, Richardson completing just 9 of 27 passes (11 straight incompletions) was a stat so alarming that he referenced it twice — and not in a good way — in his postgame comments.
Richardson knows he often has trouble making basic short throws, especially swing passes to either side, which infuriates him to no end.
A classic example was a third quarter attempt to the left flat against FSU that fell incomplete around the ankles of receiver Daejon Reynolds, which looked like a potential big-gainer had the pass been more accurate.
Jacksonville’s Denny Thompson, who has trained Richardson in the offseason for several years, doesn’t minimize the obvious that his pupil has work to do polishing his game.
“It’s harder for Ant than what it should be, but it’s also a harder throw than people think,” Thompson said of Richardson’s struggles with short passes. “That’s something he definitely has to get better at. I had my weekly review with him [Monday] and we talked about that.
“Ant is so freakin’ big and powerful, that’s what the NFL loves about him. I don’t think he’s going back to Florida. I have little doubt that he’d be a first-round pick. He’s much more mature than he was a year ago about his own body. He knows what he can and can’t handle.”
Accuracy issues aside, Richardson’s home run ability as a runner and passer is mesmerizing to watch. With Pearsall as his only viable target against FSU due to attrition, he completed passes of 52 yards (TD), 43 yards (TD) and 32 yards to his go-to receiver.
While Travis was eager to make plays with his legs on designed runs, the fact he averaged 20.9 yards on his 13 completions against UF’s shaky defense speaks volumes about his big-play ability. His 270 passing yards would have been significantly higher without some uncharacteristic drops.
Richardson a ‘freak show’
Keep in mind, Richardson is just 21-years-old and, like Travis, this is his first year as a full-time starting quarterback for an entire season.
Obviously, there are benefits to their development if they both return for one more year, not to mention the relief for Napier and FSU coach Mike Norvell not worrying about finding the right replacement.
But every stay-or-go decision has different dynamics, most of it usually connected to dollar signs.
There’s a consensus Richardson will likely bolt for the NFL, while Travis opts to stay in garnet and gold another year.
It means nothing until they announce their intentions. I’d never advocate for any player to leave or remain in school because it’s their life and personal choice.
Whatever Richardson and Travis decide, it doesn’t appear to be a slam dunk either way. So many factors have to be weighed, including NIL potential, the impact skill players that may or may not return for the Gators and ‘Noles, along with feedback they might get from NFL talent evaluators.
Dane Brugler, the highly-respect draft analyst for The Athletic, likes Richardson’s ceiling, but admits he’s a tough call on draft day.
“If Richardson declares, he will be a fascinating evaluation for NFL teams because it will be almost all projection based,” Brugler told the Times-Union via email. “The talent is easy to see. Richardson is a freak show with the size of a linebacker, but the speed of a wide receiver. He has outstanding arm power with a smooth stroke.
“However, he is still getting a feel for his accuracy and pacing as a thrower. He has an inconsistent feel for his fastball and he tends to force things that aren’t there. I’m not saying Richardson can’t be a good NFL quarterback if he declares now, but for him to improve, he needs reps and going back to school would help him develop.
“But if he declares, teams are going to be split on how likely it is that he reaches his immense upside. The first round is possible because his talent is so rare and his potential is so grand. But it will take the right situation and that is tough to predict this far out from draft weekend.”
Tough decision awaits Travis
Brugler looks at Travis’ situation a little differently, implying his decision may be impacted by how many other draft-eligible ‘Noles like running back Trey Benson and receiver Johnny Wilson opt to stick around.
“Jordan is an interesting dual-threat quarterback prospect,” wrote Brugler. “He does a great job using his feet to buy time and make plays. His escapability is impressive, but he will also stand strong in the face of the rush. He throws well on the move and can add a little on his throws that need to find an expiring window.
“However, he is undersized and needs to find better consistency overall. He will make a fantastic throw on one play, but follow it up with a head-scratching decision the next. For him to make it at the next level, he must cut down on the mistakes.
“He could definitely benefit from another year of development at FSU, but there is no guarantee he will be in a better position next year than he is now. His NFL decision should come down to how much more he feels like he can learn with his surroundings in Tallahassee.”
Thompson isn’t sure if Travis can be a sure-fire NFL starter, but likes his chances of staying in the league a long time.
“I absolutely love Jordan because he’s got great leadership skills,” said Thompson. “He could be a backup for Josh Allen [with Buffalo Bills] or Lamar Jackson [with Baltimore Ravens] and they wouldn’t have to change the offense.”
What their immediate future holds, it’s a murky picture right now. Unlike Heisman Trophy recipients Tim Tebow and Charlie Ward at Florida and FSU, respectively, Richardson and Travis don’t have a ton of experience as college starting quarterbacks.
Let them head to the NFL draft if that’s their true desire. It’s the ultimate football destination.
But after the show they put on last week, it’s intriguing to wonder how much more special Anthony Richardson and Jordan Travis could be with another year of college seasoning.